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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Paul

Friday, October 6, 2017  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Looking east on Idaho Street in Paul, Idaho

Paul lies on the fertile Snake River Plain about 2.5 miles north of Burley and five miles east of Rupert. Lush irrigated fields of sugar beets, wheat, potatoes, alfalfa hay and beans surround the city.

The hydroelectric Minidoka Dam and Lake Walcott, created by the dam on the Snake River, are about 18 miles east.

About 25 miles north begin vast tracts of public lands and the prehistoric lava flows of the Craters of the Moon National Monument. Approximately 20 miles southeast of the city is the Sawtooth National Forest, with mountain peaks rising to over 9,000 feet.

Historical Tidbits

The Southern Idaho travelers of the early 1800s—including explorers/trappers, Oregon/California Trail pioneers and the prospectors of the 1860s and 1870s—almost uniformly considered the Snake River Plain a sagebrush wasteland. There was nothing but desert and wide expanses of sagebrush for miles.

In 1843 Captain John C. Fremont, a topographical engineer, led a military surveying expedition, mapping much of the West. He wrote of the Snake River Plain: "There does not occur for a distance of 300 miles to the westward, a fertile spot of ground sufficiently large to produce the necessary quantity of grain or pasturage enough to allow even a temporary repose to the emigrants."

However, in the late 1800s attitudes began to change. Around 1880 pioneers from northern Utah began settling in the Upper Shake River Plain. Over the next several years, they successfully applied irrigation techniques and experience gained from three decades of desert reclamation in the Great Basin and transformed fields of sagebrush into an agricultural oasis.

In 1884 twenty-two-year-old Ira B. Perrine, who a decade and a half later would become the driving force behind construction of the Carey Act project Milner Dam, also successfully demonstrated that irrigation could transform desert land.

Perrine sold dairy products and meat to the Wood River Valley miners. Looking for a more favorable climate to winter his cows, Perrine moved his herd of 40 dairy cows from the Wood River Valley to the Blue Lakes in the Snake River Canyon near what is now Twin Falls. Perrine built a flood irrigation system; planted fruit trees; and grew berries, wheat and vegetables which he sold to Wood River Valley miners. Perrine’s Blue Lakes Fruit Ranch ultimately comprised 1,000 acres.

In 1881 the Oregon Short Line Railroad (OSL) began building a railroad connection between the railheads at Granger, Wyoming, and Huntington, Oregon—a distance of 472 miles. The rail line angled from Granger in a northwesterly direction through Pocatello, Shoshone and Caldwell before connecting with the rail line in Huntington.

When completed at Huntington on November 17, 1884, it created another continental railroad. Railroad interests completed the first continental railroad in 1869 at Promontory Point near Corinne, Utah. The OSL line opened Southern Idaho to the commerce centers of Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon.

In 1902 Congress passed the Newlands Act. The Act authorized the U.S. Reclamation Service, later renamed the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), to construct dams and canal systems in the Western U.S., sell arable land and water rights to settlers, periodically plat townsites needed to serve each farming community and provide irrigation water and electricity to promote conversion of arid public lands to productive privately-owned farms.

One of the first irrigation projects completed under the Act was the 82-foot-high, one-mile-long Minidoka Dam located near the Minidoka Rapids on the Snake River. Reclamation started the dam in 1904 and completed it in 1906. The 7000-killowatt hydroelectric power plant built at the dam began delivering electrical power in 1909. The water impounded by the dam created Lake Walcott and provided irrigation water on the north and south sides of the river, a total of 116,000 acres.

In contemplation of receiving irrigation water from Minidoka Dam, settlers immediately began buying land and water rights. Within a year, hundreds of settlers had moved onto their property and commenced clearing their land of sagebrush and preparing the soil for planting. The first years were harsh—living in tents and hauling water from the Snake River as far as four miles away. Pioneers somehow managed to hang on for three years until the water arrived, and then their dreams began to come true.

In 1905 Reclamation platted the town of Paul—named after Reclamation’s chief engineer, C. H. Paul.

No sooner did the settler’s crops emerge from the ground, than hoards of jackrabbits and insects converged on the fields, devouring the tender crops and threatening the settlers’ livelihood. As one settler wrote, "Jackrabbits came to the green wheat fields about sundown. They came from the lavas [lava beds] and the uncleared sagebrush fields where they shaded-up during the daytime. They came in hoards so thick that it looked as though the ground was moving…" The settlers fought the menace with every tool available.

In 1907 the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad Company—acquired by the Oregon Short Line Railroad in 1910—completed the 75-mile railroad spur that started at Minidoka, passed through Rupert and Paul and ended at Buhl. In 1910 the railroad came to Paul, crossing land owned by James Ellis.

After the railroad arrived, the first building was constructed, a large two-story wood frame structure known as the Woodman Hall. It contained a lodge upstairs and J.J. Smoot’s general store on the ground floor. Then two acres were purchased from Mr. Ellis and the first schoolhouse went up. M.E. Watson built an elevator and flour mill, R.H. Adams constructed a warehouse and a bank was then built, which still stands today. Then a $70,000 hotel was built by the Grimm brothers. Later, the community got together on a $30,000 water system. The old school, with its 16 students, was getting over filled. A $250,000 brick-structured school was built. Some of the land was owned by T.E. Clark. They came up with several names for the town—Clarksville, Clarkston, and Clarkopolis to name a few. They finally decided it would be called Paul—getting the name from the supervisory engineer, Charles H. Paul, in his honor for the Minidoka Project.

On May 7, 1917, Paul became an incorporated village. Its status changed to a city with the passage of a new Idaho law in 1967.

Legacy of World War II

One of the tragedies of World War II, which began in 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, was the action taken by the federal government to strip Japanese-American citizens of their constitutional rights and place them into concentration camps called "relocation centers."

One of the "relocation centers," the Minidoka Relocation Center—which postal authorities called Hunt—was built on 68,000 acres of sagebrush land located between the cities of Rupert and Jerome.

In May of 1944 Italian prisoners of war were sent to a 300-acre camp just five miles west of Paul. The prison camp was called Camp Rupert. The Italians were only there for a few short months before German prisoners were brought in to take their place in the fall of 1944.

During the war years, most able-bodied men had been called up to fight in the war. In addition, other Magic Valley men and women moved to other cities for high-paying jobs building goods and weapons for the military. Consequently, there was a shortage of laborers to work on the farms.

Hunt Camp prisoners and German POWs filled part of this labor shortage. The U.S. Government contracted them out as farm hands to the local farmers. Still today, the area is made up largely of Knopps, Kraus, Martsch, Schorzman and Schenks.

Amenities and Attractions Today

An 11.5-acre city park is being constructed with walking paths, an 800-foot spray park, a sled hill for the children in the winter time, two soccer fields, picnic areas, Frisbee golf and workout areas.

The city of Paul has easy access to everywhere. If you go five miles east, you’re in Rupert; 2.5 miles south and you’re in Burley or Heyburn; or west and you hit the Interstate to Twin Falls and beyond. State Highway 24 is 15 miles north, and you have a shortcut to Magic Reservoir, Stanley, Ketchum, Hailey and Sun Valley.

One of the more significant city attractions is its location near the fabulous public recreation complex that includes Minidoka Dam, Lake Walcott, Lake Walcott State Park and the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge.

Lake Walcott State Park offers boating, windsurfing, sailing, water skiing, bird watching, camping and fishing, as well as picnicking under old-growth hardwood trees. One popular feature of the park is an 18-hole "Disc Golf Course" with metal baskets for holes.

The Wildlife Refuge extends 25 miles east and upriver from the dam. It encompasses nearly 21,000 acres of which over half are open water and marshes.

Downhill skiing is available at Pomerelle Ski Resort, 38 miles south of the city. Its 8,000-foot elevation has an average snowfall of 500 inches. The resort has 24 groomed trails and 3 chairlifts.

Many residents take advantage of the national forest and the vast open ranges managed by the BLM for hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, snowmobiling and ATV riding.

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